By Shivasundar 

Now that dust and euphoria around the recently concluded Assembly elections have settled, it is time to go beyond the optics and the narrative built by the parties and the media around the results and decipher the nature of the victory and defeat of parties in Karnataka.

The 2023 election in Karnataka was very important for more than one reason for the people of Karnataka and also the country at large. One important answer the people wanted to know from this election was whether the people of Karnataka are fed up with the Hindutva extravaganza played out in the last four years and hence defeat the vicious Hindutva politics. Or whether the strategy of communal polarisation of the BJP steered by the Modi-Shah duo, and its brute money power with micro social engineering, would triumph over misgovernance, corruption, price rise, unemployment and other issues related to life and livelihood. Added to this was another crucial question of whether the dominant Lingayat community would desert the BJP because of the perceived systematic humiliation and also whether the SC-ST communities understood the fraud committed by the BJP on them in both hiking the reservation and its reclassification.

Deciphering the mandate

Now that the people of Karnataka have voted decisively for a Congress government, Congress has got a comfortable and also safe majority with 135 seats in an Assembly of 224 legislators. It is 70 seats more than what BJP won this time. Congress also got a 7% vote share more than the BJP. The Congress has now overcome the immediate hurdle of the CM question with a workable formula where Siddaramaiah is the Chief Minister and DK Shivakumar is the Deputy Chief Minister.

But a deeper study of the results reveals that while the Congress can form the government comfortably for the next five years, this victory itself cannot be construed as the defeat of communalism or of the BJP. The BJP came to power one year after the 2018 elections, by engineering ‘Operation Kamala’ where 17 MLAs were poached by BJP from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) [JD(S)]. But the Congress which had got 80 seats in the 2018 election, had a vote share of 38.04%, which is 1.5% more than that of the BJP. The JD(S) had 37 seats with an 18.36% vote share in the 2018 elections.

In 2023, Congress obtained a 43% vote share, which is 5% more than its share in 2018. And JD(S) lost around 18 seats with a loss of 5% vote share this time.

But the BJP, which could win in only 66 seats, thereby losing 40 seats compared to the 2018 verdict, has not lost its vote share. It has obtained a 36% vote share which is the same as the 2018 election. If you break it into absolute numbers the real picture will be clearer.

BJP got more votes this time

In 2018, 1.32 crore voters voted for BJP and 1.39 crore voted for the Congress. This time 27 lakh more voters voted for Congress taking its tally to 1.67 crore. While 67 lakh voters preferred JD(S) in 2018, only 52 lakh voters preferred it this time, bringing JD(S) vote share down from 18.36% to 13.3%.

On the other hand, in 2023, 1.4 crore voters voted for BJP. Thus, eight lakh more voters favoured BJP this time. This means, not only was the BJP’s 2018 vote share retained, but the party got more votes. Although, in a First Past The Post System model of electoral democracy, this micro picture of vote share does not matter, it reveals the dynamism of the social support a party has. That the BJP displayed this performance despite an anti-incumbency wave should be a cause of deep worry. Hence the euphoria over the BJP’s defeat is exaggerated and a close analysis of the nature of the mandate is required.

The electoral history of the BJP makes it clear that the vote share of the BJP has been consistently increasing since 1989 in a linear way. Thus, it was 4.14% in 1989, 16.99% in 1994 elections, 20.69 in 1999, 28.33% in 2004, 33.86 in 2008, 36% in 2018 and the same in 2023. Whatever may be the electoral success or failure of the BJP, it has consolidated its social base, unlike other parties including the Congress. This is the danger the secular forces have to reckon with. There is no reason for any complacency in the Congress victory. It is because the decisive 7% extra votes the Congress got in this election is more like a conditional contract over the guarantees it offered and might not have any other ideological or political glue to stay with Congress, unlike the BJP social base.

This becomes obvious when one compares how Congress fared in a similar situation. One important factor for the growth of the BJP and the decline of Congress in the late 90s is attributed to the discontent of dominant Lingayats against the Congress. Now the defeat of the BJP in 2023 is also attributed to the discontent of Lingayats against the BJP. But if one compares the two situations, the BJP seems to have navigated the crisis without much harm due to its Hindutva politics…

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